Five chemical engineering research stories from June 2016

To help you stay up-to-date with the latest achievements from the chemical engineering research community here is our monthly installment with some of the latest stories.

Here are five stories of amazing chemical engineering research and innovation:

Using plant-based sorbents to clean up oil spills

seedlingsResearchers from Russia analysed the possibility of using low-cost plant-based sorbents modified in various ways to clean up water surface oil spills as opposed to man-made sorbents such as perlite, expanded clay, or silica gel.

This article was published as part of the Process Safety and Environmental Protection special issue on Air Pollution Control and Waste Management. The researchers identified sorption as the most effective and environmentally acceptable but the most expensive method for oil spill clean-up. However, using plant-based sorbents can improve cost-effectiveness and the plant waste can later be recycled for asphalt production and fuel.

Continue reading

Carbon capture and storage is part of the climate solution #COP21

Bulbs and energyThe world’s population is expected to exceed nine billion by 2050. With this growth there will be an increasing demand for energy.

As it stands, fossil fuels provide more than 85 per cent of the world’s energy. And despite significant global efforts to shift to renewable energy generation, renewable sources only accounted for 2 per cent of the global energy supply in 2014.

It is therefore logical and reasonable to believe that fossil fuels will remain an indispensable part of the world’s energy landscape until at least the end of this century.

Climate Change - sliderAt COP21, representatives from over 190 countries will try to reach an agreement to limit global warming to the two degrees target, and this will involve stabilising atmospheric COconcentrations at a level of 450 parts per million (ppm).

So what does this mean? For fossil fuels, it means we need to decarbonise electricity production; and carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a readily deployable technology solution to do this.

Continue reading

CCS equals ‘Carbon Capture and Students’ (Day 355)

As regular readers will recognise, I am based at Imperial College London and today, I want to describe some of the work that goes on here.

The Carbon Capture Pilot Plant

Photo Credit | Imperial College London
The Carbon Capture Pilot Plant

I am the Professor of Energy Engineering, in the Department of Chemical Engineering, and much of my research is now built around carbon capture and storage (CCS). I’d like to tell you a little more about the work on carbon capture here at Imperial, with particular focus on our carbon capture pilot plant.

The carbon capture pilot plant is so big that it stretches over four floors of our building, right at its centre – which is pretty impressive for a university pilot plant and helps provide a sense of scale for the real thing.

The pilot plant provides our students with an opportunity to grapple with some of the practical challenges that they will encounter in industry. It certainly presents the opportunity to hone a few of the skills that might prove useful in the  future.

Continue reading

Ambassador Prize for clean energy expert (Day 290)

??????????IChemE has traditionally awarded a range of medals and prizes to acknowledge the achievements of chemical engineers around the world.

It’s one of the ways in which we recognise that chemical engineering matters at an individual (or team) level, and I always look forward to the announcement of the winners.

The medals and prizes will be presented at a range of events and locations in the months ahead, but given that the list has been publicised in the March issue of The Chemical Engineer (tce) magazine, I thought I’d take the opportunity to blog about some of the winners and their achievements.

First up is the Ambassador Prize, this year awarded to my friend and colleague, Dr Paul Fennell, for his outstanding work to bring greater understanding of chemical engineering to non-chemical engineers – from government ministers to university students and school children, to people in the pub!

Continue reading

The world’s first carbon capture ready industrial zone? (Day 265)

My enthusiasm for carbon capture and storage (CCS) will hardly come as a surprise to regular readers of this blog (see ‘The Complexities of Carbon Capture and Storage‘ or ‘Planet Poker‘). Nevertheless, today I have a new story about an exciting CCS development announced at the UK parliament last month. Teesside, in North East England, is responsible for six per cent of the UK’s industrial CO2 emissions. The area is also home to five of the UK’s top CO2 emitting plants. Now, with the cost of carbon permits expected to escalate, a consortium of government and industry stakeholders has formed a partnership called the Teesside Collective with the aim of forging nothing less than a new industrial future for Britain based on CCS.

Image courtesy of The Teesside Collective

Photo Credit | Image courtesy of The Teesside Collective

Continue reading

The Complexities of Carbon Capture and Storage (Day 238)

CO2One of the things I love most about chemical engineering is the fact that it encourages us to consider all the possibilities.

Some of the best work being done in carbon capture and storage (CCS) is helping us to question whether the assumptions we make are correct.

Research from the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology at the University of Cambridge suggests that natural geochemical reactions can delay or even prevent the spreading of carbon dioxide (CO2) in subsurface aquifers.

This implies the carbon storage in the underground reservoirs of the Earth may be more complex than originally thought.

Continue reading

Chemical engineering (and other) highlights of 2014 (Day 223)

Once the dust has settled after the merriment and celebration of welcoming in the New Year, it’s only natural to reflect on the year that has passed. 2014 was a great year for me, full of new experiences and meeting new people, which obviously includes a lot of chemical engineers, through my role as IChemE president.

So, on reflection, I’d like to share with you my personal and professional chemical engineering highlights of 2014.

1. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Synthesis Report

Polar bearThe issue of climate change has been top of my agenda for some time, and communicating across the seriousness and urgency needed by our global society to mitigate the effects has been a personal mission of mine.

So, you can imagine my delight when the IPCC published their Synthesis Report.

After all, ‘It’s not just the polar bears at risk‘. The report dismissed the conspiracy that climate change isn’t happening, it is real and we need to do something about it, and fast!

Continue reading

Planet Poker (Day 181)

If you had to sit down in front of the three biggest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world – China (29 per cent), USA (15 per cent), and the European Union (10 per cent) – and persuade them to scale back their use of fossil fuels what would you say?

Would you take the emotive approach and appeal to their sense of humanity by highlighting the risks they are storing up for our children and grandchildren in the future?

Or would you lead with the science articulated so determinedly by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published in its Synthesis Report at the start of this month?

PokerEither way, it does seem that nations – and even within nations – the world’s biggest game of poker is underway.

Our leaders are literally gambling with our planet, and the odds are getting worse if you agree with the IPCC.

This game of cards moved on recently when China and the US unveiled new pledges on greenhouse gas emissions.

US President Barack Obama said the move was “historic”, as he set a new goal of reducing US levels between 26 per cent-28 per cent by 2025, compared with 2005 levels.

China did not set a specific target, but said emissions would peak by 2030.

Continue reading

It’s not just the polar bears at risk (Day 163)

Polar bearA common image of mankind’s influence on our planet is to show its impact on nature and wildlife.

In relation to climate change, the plight of the polar bear is often highlighted. But should that image now include humans?

By the end of the century it may be a reality – certainly the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) think so.

In my role as a professor of energy engineering and my previous stern warnings about our dangerously low rate of progress in reducing carbon emissions, you can imagine that I had been eagerly anticipating last Sunday’s release of the IPCC’s Synthesis Report.

Continue reading

One small step for CCS; one giant leap for the Earth (Day 141)

Big stepCarbon capture and storage (CCS) is something close to my heart. I, and many colleagues at Imperial College Centre for Carbon Capture and Storage (IC4S) have been working on this for a long time.

With the amount of discussion about it, people may be forgiven for thinking it’s already happening. There is progress and technology and projects are coming online. However, it’s still in its infancy and we’ve only just reached a vital milestone.

It’s been a long time coming, but at the start of October, the world’s first commercial-scale carbon capture and storage plant has come online and started operating in Canada.

Continue reading

No time to wait (Day 116)

Coal Power StationWhether we like it or not, energy from fossil fuels is going to be needed for around another two generations.

It is not a comforting thought to think that our descendants born in 30 or 40 years time may be left with the legacy of not acting now to mitigate the effects of climate change.

We need to press ahead with building capacity for renewable energy. There’s also no time to waste to implement carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology for the hundreds of fossil fuel power stations that will still need to be constructed in the meantime. Without CCS, it is unlikely we’ll get anywhere near the Kyoto targets.

Continue reading